Is “Anthology of Lithuanian Art Music in the 21st Century” an outsider’s view of contemporary Music from an Outside Country? I am the first to admit that I am not qualified to critique these recordings, but, I can respond.

We are now 17 years into the 21st century (or 18, if you don’t count 2000 as the final year of the previous millennium). Yet it is still probably too soon to make generalizations about the music of this new era that will continue to have historical validity in the decades to come. Consider the previous three centuries.

Most people acknowledge Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, and Mozart as the towering figures of the 18th century. By 1717, Vivaldi had already published his L’estro armonico, but he didn’t conceive of the Four Seasons for another six years. Handel had already composed the still sometimes performed opera Rinaldo and his Water Music premiered in the summer of 1717, but the work for which he is most widely known, Messiah, would not come into being for another quarter century. Bach had composed but a small number of his more than 200 cantatas and just a couple of organ works that remain repertoire staples. It would be another year before the earliest of the Brandenburg Concertos and his Passions were still a decade away. Haydn and Mozart were not yet born.

~ Frank J. Oteri

Oteri was asked to curate a new anthology of contemporary Lithuanian music. MICL issued a call for works for possible inclusion in this anthology and collected hundreds of recordings as well as scores of pieces by 90 different composers ranging from éminence grises to composition students.

But curating proved to be a daunting challenge for Oteri due to a variety of reasons. Not the least of which was the sheer volume of the material. I do not feel relatively knowledgeable about contemporary Lithuanian music, I am an outsider who has not travelled to the country and my exposure to this music has been primarily through recordings. Oteri classes himself as an outsider too – An outsider’s perspective is exactly what MICL wanted since one of the main purposes of this anthology would be to showcase Lithuanian repertoire to outsiders — e.g. international listeners (and this review site).

Even more problematic than feeling a lack of sufficient expertise to tackle this project is my personal aversion to passing judgments on music. Sigil Of Brass is not the intended listener – this music is not meant for criticism: it is a showcase, inviting the would-be-listener to delve deeper in to Lithuanian music. Does it work? Hell yeah! I will be actively seeking out these acts and composers for future reviews.

As Oteri sums it up –

I have devoted my life to being an advocate for music and to collect as much of it as possible. As a collector, if asked to make a choice between two things, I usually try to figure out a way to select them both—unless my two options are a “best of” and a “complete works,” in which case I will always choose the latter! Aside from wanting to literally “have it all,” I’m fundamentally suspicious of preferences, whether they’re those of others or even my own. A “best of” approach, which is what has given us such flawed paradigms as “the great man theory” and “the masterpiece syndrome,” limits our experience and, worse than that, deafens us to the staggering variety of extraordinary music all around us from all times and places—particularly the music being created right now.

How could Oteri possibly agree to make a compilation that would have to exclude so much more music than it could include? There is something amazing happening in Lithuania. Oteri declares a caveat that under no circumstance should this collection be thought of as being “the best Lithuanian music of the 21st century” or even “my favorite Lithuanian music of 21st century.” In fact, there are tons of pieces he treasures that are not featured in this collection for a variety of reasons.

Since the Zoom In compilations are available internationally, Gailė and Oteri decided not to include any works featured on them. This means that gems such as Justė Janulytė’s 2009 Naktų ilgėjimas (Elongation of Nights) for string orchestra was automatically disqualified since it had been featured on Volume 8. The same was true of several other pieces Oteri treasures — Gintaras Sodeika’s Piano Concerto (volume 11), Raminta Šerkšnytė’s 2004 violin concerto Vortex (volume 4), and Bronius Kutavičius’s 2002 Aštuonios Stasio miniatiūros (Stasys’s 8 Miniatures) for piano trio (volume 2). In fact, none of these composers appear in this collection.

But this release does what it is intended to – it highlights the art music from, what the packaging brands as an outsider country, in a fascinating way that leaves the listener and the collector (I am foremost a collector more than a critic) wanting to mine the rich vein of Lithuanian music.